Frank Correa is an artist based in Seattle who shoots and manipulates digital images. Coming to Washington by way of Peru, Frank reworks his photographs to create a cast of characters and scenes that shine with an auratic glow. Complicating the snapshots with fabricated backgrounds, props, and appendages, his work skitters irreverently between illusionism and digital kitsch. I’m continually amazed by his endlessly earnest, yet unashamedly humorous approach to art making, the results of which I find to be entirely out of touch with… well, just about everything aside from itself (in the best possible way). We chatted one evening to discuss his work, his “doodles”, and being (or not being) inspired by the internet.
Kenta Murakami <3
diga.rt: Your photography was analog for quite a while, with a sudden shift a couple year ago towards the digital. Now your editing process is as much a part of the art as the photos themselves. Could you talk about this development?
FC: Well, I had to switch cause I had to turn things in faster than I could with film.
diga.rt: So it was somewhat practical?
FC: Yeah, I mean sometimes I’d need to turn something in the next day or whatever. I know that’s not the most exciting answer.
diga.rt: That’s pretty real though.
FC: It is – not to mention the place I got film developed shut down, so that was the last straw.
Well actually – I started shooting digital – I don’t know if you remember, probably not cause you’re too young, but those cameras with the floppy disks? I started shooting photos with one of those in high school.
diga.rt: What do the pictures look like? Just like normal digital?
FC: Yeah, they do – I’ll have to find some. I have a Photobucket somewhere but I don’t have the password right now; the password comes and goes every three years. But yeah, it was mostly timing and just turning things around faster.
diga.rt: Do you think that’s actually cut down on the wait time though? I feel like now the editing process has replaced the time it took you to get it developed to some extent?
FC: That’s true…. The editing is definitely getting longer. I like to take days in between just to keep it fresh.
diga.rt: It’s interesting how that changes the work’s relationship to photography. I mean normally you can’t really step away from an image and come back to it with fresh eyes. When you’re shooting, do you already have edits in mind or does that come later?
FC: Sometimes I will have the image already done in my head and when I shoot I’ll just get what I need, but a lot of times the editing comes later. It’s probably 50/50.
diga.rt: I think of your work as kind of legendary within Seattle since so many of the people in your images are recognizable characters locally. It feels in a way like a portrait of a scene or way of being within the city. Can you talk about your relationship with Seattle?
FC: I’m pretty inspired by Seattle – the people, the sea – I feel comfortable here, at least with my sole group of friends. It makes me feel at home.
Everyone’s bashing on Seattle these days – just like – not liking it. Or at least Capitol Hill and how it’s turning into this new thing. I’m pretty over people complaining about that.
But yeah, I mean pretty much everyone I’ve shot lives here. So it’s a pretty Seattle world that I’m inspired by.
diga.rt: Do you see your work sitting in relation to fashion photography at all? I guess I’m asking just because so much of your work seems invested in styling.
FC: I mean I enjoy styling my shoots. I always have. But lately I feel like I’m skipping that part – I just want skin, when the models are at their most beautiful state. So fashion doesn’t really have to do with anything here anymore.
diga.rt: I guess I’m also asking because with the editing process and your models their seems to be an investment in bringing out people’s style in a sense that’s sort of larger than life or that becomes sort of aspirational. Yet despite this, or maybe because of it, your work also feels sort of antithetical to fashion. When you’re editing is there something you’re looking for or trying to draw out?
FC: Not necessarily – I mean I often start by just changing the color of things. So like, if I don’t like your pants I’ll change them. And I do that a lot, with clothes or like tools that people are holding. Often I’ll just wipe everything down and give them a new layer. But yeah, I’m not really into clothes right now. The way I look at it, I just want to skip that part.
diga.rt: What’re you looking for when you’re picking models? I mean I know most of them are your friends…. I guess what do you look for in a friend? (laughing)
FC: I’m running out of friends! But you know, I’m making new friends. I’m mostly looking for new faces. People who are willing to do whatever. I hate it when people say they’re down to shoot but then they’re not tryna go 100% – So just people that are down, that want to go for it.
diga.rt: That want to make something?
FC: Yeah. And I mean I appreciate when people are not down. I am one of those people. I turn down a lot of like modeling gigs cause I don’t necessarily want to be photographed.
diga.rt: Why do you think you’re hesitant to be photographed?
FC: It’s not that I don’t trust people? I guess I just have to respect them a lot.
diga.rt: I guess when I think about it you’re pretty controlling. I mean in terms of reshaping the image to look how you want. I personally hate having my photo taken. I mean, I don’t mind it when you take my picture or anything, but again, it’s a trust thing. I don’t really like the thought of someone taking a picture of me and having a random image representing me on Facebook for everyone.
FC: I am pretty controlling actually. Even if I’m modeling I’ll still try to control the shoot.
diga.rt: Your work often plays along a line between amateurism and refined technical skill – some of your images seem kitsch, almost as if they’re memes, while others have an almost trompe l’oeil effect that confuses the eye (many doing both within the same image). Is there something about the unpolished image that you find interesting?
FC: Umm those photos – I know which ones you’re talking about, and to be honest, they’re sort of just like doodle exercises. It’s like eye training. I don’t take my work seriously at all. I mean, I’m honest about it. But I do like the lo-fi look. It’s pretty real. I mean they’re often a photobooth image from my computer or whatever. But like I said, it’s mostly just practice.
diga.rt: I feel like nature is a huge part of your work yet the images are often in an urban or digitally-fabricated kind of environment. How do feel you are affected by your surroundings? or the weather, or you know, astrology or whatever.
FC: Well, I’m pretty inspired by it constantly, but I’ve sort of been moving in a different direction where I don’t even want to shoot outside. I want to be building my own sets more. Right now I feel more inspired by – I mean you always feel the cosmic energy – but now more by fabricating sets on the computer. I photograph in nature so much that I’m interested in moving into a world that I have to create myself.
diga.rt: I feel like there’s something sort of mystical about the digital image. Do you feel like the internet affects your approach?
FC: I don’t know. I mean I appreciate the visual simulation, but I don’t really think it inspires me.
diga.rt: Do you have any crazy internet memories? I remember going to your old apartment and y’all would always have the craziest fail compilations I’d ever seen.
FC: I mean yeah…. It’s sort of not safe for work related stuff though. It’s kind of terrible, but before Yahoo bought Tumblr people were posting gnarly – just like – the baddest shit. Like murder. I mean I still remember those things. It’s kind of fucked up to be talking about this, but decapitation kind of stuff. It’s not like they’re my favorite Tumblr moments, but those are the ones that have stuck. I’m more into win compilations now, people being super human.
diga.rt: Yeah I feel like there really was a moment for that type of viral video, where people were just like, “you have to see this, it’s unreal.” And it really was!
Do you think there’s anything inspiring about – okay, obviously not decapitations – but the sorta brute force of the internet at times?
FC: Yeah, I do like how there’re no boundaries.
diga.rt: I guess that’s what I mean when I describe your work as having an ~internet~ kinda vibe to it. There’s a randomness, or more a depth to your output that makes it feel sort of immersive.
FC: Yeah, I mean it’s not like I go out of my way to shock people. I’m pretty conservative.
diga.rt: Yeah I think so. In a weird way.
FC: You know, I’m not tryna be on peoples’ faces necessarily. But that’s fun, sometimes. Some people could use more of that on-your-face vibe. You know, you can look or look away. That’s the thing about the internet, you can close windows.
diga.rt: But you can never forget.